4 star

The Devil You Know

By Jo Goodman

ISBN 978-0-425-27744-7

Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Scott

Synopsis:  The Devil You know


After a horse drags him through the countryside, Israel McKenna awakes bruised and battered in a field in Pancake Valley, Colorado. He can recall where he came from and where he was going, but the memory of how he came to be on the Pancake homestead eludes him. He’s certain he did something wrong to deserve such a harsh punishment—and so is the beautiful woman who reluctantly comes to his aid.
Wilhelmina “Willa” Pancake must focus on running her family’s ranch. With Israel’s hazy memory, she is unsure if she can trust him, let alone handle the budding attraction between them. And as men fight to steal her land and the truth about Israel’s past rides toward them, love is a risk she cannot easily take.


Meanwhile, back at the proverbial ranch, the continuing the saga of the McKenna’s, of which Quill, in This Gun for Hire, first appeared, Jo Goodman returns in another dripping romance set in the days of the wild west. Concentrating this time on Quill’s misguided brother Israel, and his road from ruins and a fragmented past, to the life of a new man. The book, The Devil You Know is plot focused and the sexiness of the writing permeates the air as you read it. This is a historical romance lover’s dream, with room for the rest of us as we unravel the web of deceit and lies to get to the truth.

Israel, as mentioned previously, is one of the starring characters of the book. Like the other cast and characters of ‘Pancake Valley’ he is fully fleshed out by the end of the novel.  Willa, Israel’s love interest in the story is just as powerful. Even Quill and Calico make an appearance by the end of the novel. From the most minor characters to the most star-crossed, each possesses their own unique passions and flairs that make this a thoroughly well scripted piece. Predictable in many ways by the very nature of a romance, what the characters do or don’t do, says or doesn’t say, are what drives the reader through the pages of this book. Actions usually speak louder than words, as the maxim goes, but a book is word driven, and to the most part the words are allocated amongst the characters. In no way does The Devil You Know deviate from its characters impact on the novel. They are the impact of the novel – the driving force of love and passion that’s carried through in the writing.

Plot wise this is some of the finest western reading you’ll be doing for a while. Jo Goodman has a way of just whetting the readers appetite, but holding back key cards. It’s never easy for the McKenna’s and Goodman knows this. She weaves layer upon layer of the onion, and discards the pieces that are rotten, leaving the reader with a pure unadulterated work of art, that makes peeling this onion worth the cry. It’s the plot that holds this romance together, and a plot it is. Peeling back the mystery of Israel’s (and Willa’s) past, is part of the fun of this light novel. and what holds it together through the course of the work. I haven’t been so intrigued by character driven plot in quite some time. The levels Goodman plumbs in The Devil You Know in terms of plot are, on the surface, simple to understand, however reading it is a totally different matter altogether. The sheer joy of having a fact divied out to you is bait enough to go for the next bite.

The writing is both stark and bold, like the ‘wild west’ period it occupies. Like a bucking bronco the prose is slick and smooth as a baby’s backside, or as coarse and rough as a farmhand’s callouses. The Devil You Know is a contradiction in terms: on one hand romance, on the other wild adventure. Even though the environs of the novel are limited in scope, one stands to look at the larger picture of things and the west comes into focus. Written to take place as the railroads were killing off the cowhands, Goodman captures in her writing what the last of the generations of freegrazers must have felt, as the new age of locomotives encroaching on their territory and how fencing in must have affected the lives of those living those prideful times was.

Overall, The Devil You Know has a built in audience, in both the romance and historical romance fields. Add to this the ‘western’ aficionados and you have roughly who this book is aimed for. For those that aren’t in these demographics, Jo Goodman delivers a solid tale that’s worth picking up. It’s a nice, light and mysterious read.